- - Thursday, April 27, 2017

Don Hinkle is the founding editor the Missouri Baptist Convention newspaper, The Pathway — the fifth largest circulation paper in the Show Me state.

Don is also one of the great public policy leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention, combining a head for policy facts with a common sense approach to building networks. When I say “common sense,” I mean that Don’s strategy is simple. He makes friends with people, even when policy issues might seem like an easy excuse to stand aloof or throw potshots.

He could make a stone like him. Even a Democrat stone. 

I sat down with Don for a video interview to hear about all the news coming out of Missouri in the past few months. And I asked him how Christians should be praying for President Trump

A transcript of the dialogue follows the video, edited for clarity.


Lamb: Don, begin by telling our readers about The Pathway. What is the significance of The Pathway within Missouri — and didn’t you win some accolades recently?

Hinkle: Well, thank you, Scott. Indeed, we did. The Pathway is the official newspaper of the Missouri Baptist Convention. The Missouri Baptist Convention, which is Southern Baptist, is the largest, non-Catholic denomination in the state of Missouri — about 2,000 churches and 600,000 members–and The Pathway is the official newspaper.

I launched The Pathway in June of 2002, so we’re coming up on our 15th anniversary. Our circulation has gone from 2,000 to right around 24,000. Our readership has gone from zero to about 6,000 — between our website and the print edition. We are direct mail —we go straight into the homes–which is very important, and I think gives us some influence.

And I also think that because we’ve continued to grow our circulation and readership that our people are showing us that they trust us, they believe in what we tell them and in this day of fake news, That’s a big deal to people, especially to Christians. Southern Baptists love the truth, we believe in absolute truth, so we try to practice that in our journalism as well.

We’ve won many awards over the years, but we found out last week that The Pathway won three awards at what I consider to be the very prestigious Evangelical Press Association Awards contest. Our website won an award, and the paper won two overall. And our writer Brian Koonce won a third place for his critique of the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” We were delighted that our friends at EPA honored us in this way–because that’s our colleagues affirming our work.

Lamb: Share with us a little about what’s been happening in Missouri. You’ve got a new governor and a new Attorney General — and you were in the midst of things last year with some bill that was being hard fought for. Tell us about that and what’s going with Christians being involved in government in the Show Me state.

Hinkle: Missouri’s a real interesting state when it comes to politics, that’s for sure.

Last year, I would say we knocked the air out of the state capital when we walked in with a bill called SJR 39, that’s Senate Joint Resolution 39. We thought, like everyone else, that Mrs. Clinton was going to be our next president and she had made it clear that she was going to get pretty aggressive in her dealings with the church in regard to religious liberty. We felt that some pretty dramatic action needed to be taken. So Dr. Yeats, our Executive Director, came to me and said, “Don, we need to do something, and we need to do it now.” And he said, “You’re the guy to do it.” I don’t know why he picked me, but he did. But we were blessed to pull a lot of talented people together, like attorney Mike Whitehead, who just argued the Trinity Lutheran case last week in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. And then, of course, Carl Esbeck, probably the pre-eminent First Amendment scholar in America, we all worked together on what became SJR 39.

Lamb: Explain for us what SJR 39 sought to do.

Hinkle: We looked to amend the Missouri Constitution to protect our religious liberty. Not only our churches and our institutions, but also for people of faith who wanted to run their businesses according to the diktats of their faith and, of course, that was being threatened. We took it to the Missouri General Assembly and, because we had a Democrat Governor who would veto it, we went around him by what would be a Constitutional Amendment — which only needs House and Senate support (and both houses were controlled by the Republicans).

We got it through the Senate, after, like, a 31-hour filibuster by the Democrats. We got it over to the House, and we got to the final committee before it would go to the floor for a final House vote. That would have put it on the ballot last August for Missourians to vote — up or down — to include it in the Missouri Constitution.

But it fell short by one vote — in a House committee that was controlled by Republicans. Needless to say, it was pretty disappointing.

But, I tell you, the national coverage that it got and the impact that it had on religious liberty thinking among our lawmakers at the state capital — it completely changed the landscape, even though we lost by one vote.

Lamb: So you’re saying that even in loss there was a great value because of the dialogue and the conversation — massive amounts of exposure to the ideas and the issues surrounding religious liberty.

Hinkle: When CNN and The Washington Times call, you know you’ve built something — something’s happened. So we kicked it up.

Now, even though we lost last year, that led to something else that’s happened this year.

Real quick, in 2015, in a case that involved a nurse at St Francis Catholic Hospital in St Louis, she sued under the Missouri Human Right Act, claiming that the hospital discriminated against her because she was a woman. In other words, her lawsuit was based on gender, not religion. It goes all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court. For whatever reason, and of course, the Court doesn’t have to tell us why, the Court removed the Court removed the longstanding religious exemption that was in the Missouri Human Rights Act, leaving our Children’s Home, our colleges, all of our institutions, vulnerable to possible discrimination lawsuits.

So we went to the Legislature this year and said, “Hey, they did this. We need to put that religious exemption back into Missouri Human Rights Act.” It has passed the Senate. It has cleared committee in the House. We are about to go to the House floor for final vote. Our new Governor has said he will sign it.

So, I think that all we did last year has helped us with this current situation.

Lamb: That’s exciting. Ok, so tell us about this new Governor of yours and that Attorney General. What’s the deal there?

Don: First Jewish Governor in the history of Missouri! He’s a great guy, seems like it. A very impressive veteran — former Navy Seal. He’s done a lot of great work prior to entering public office.

I did not support Governor Greitens until right before — really, the last week before the election, simply because I didn’t know him. He certainly is an outsider, although he is originally from St Louis. I just really didn’t know anything about him.

But I, like so many Missourians, just came to the conclusion that we had to go with him — that the alternative was just unacceptable. He won and so far, I think he’s done a good job.

I cautioned Southern Baptists in Missouri after he was elected to keep their powder dry, that we needed to give him a chance. Let’s see what he does. And quite frankly, the positions he has taken so far — he’s very strong in areas of pro-life, very strong in areas of religious liberty.

Lamb: What about your Attorney General? What’s going on with him?

Hinkle: Oh, he’s a superstar. I tell everybody, he’s the home run hitter. Joshua Hawley is everything that I think Americans — and certainly, Missourians feel this way — everything that they want in a public servant.

Joshua got more votes than anybody in the election, including Trump, and Trump trounced Hillary in this state — but Hawley got more votes than even Trump.

Lamb: And what do you attribute that to? He’s just on the right side of the positions and a great campaigner to boot?

Hinkle: As I’ve talked to people, they tell me, especially when they see him in public, that Josh just has this, he just has this commanding presence about him, but there’s an air of humility with this young man.

You just put the two things together and, like I said, he’s a home run hitter.

Lamb: Okay, let me shift a little bit and ask you more of a bigger picture kind of question. How do you see pastors viewing their role of being engaged in the public square? How do you see pastors evolving in the last three or four years, as national debates have been ramped up? Are pastors getting more engaged or less engaged in the public square?

Hinkle: I detected about three years ago that Southern Baptist pastors in Missouri were getting more involved, more engaged, shall we say, with public policy and I think it’s because they’ve seen the deterioration of their local economies over the last eight years, as well as a lot of spiritual problems, obviously, with our nation, that has caused great concern among them and their concern for the people.

I think this has led many of them to get more engaged in public policy. There’s always a few that are Southern Baptists who don’t want to go there, but I think that we come to see that we need to engage a little.

God created all of reality. It all belongs to him. Government is one of only three institutions that he ordained, and there is no way that you can make me believe that God doesn’t intend for his children to be actively engaged in every facet of reality, no matter what it is, including engaging with the government in public policy. Not for ourselves. Not for ourselves, but for our fellow citizens, so that they may prosper and live Godly, peaceful lives.

Lamb: So it’s a form of loving our neighbors.

Hinkle: Absolutely. And I think we’re seeing more pastors get engaged. You’ve talked to Doug Richey, over in Kansas City, who is running for the Missouri House. Chuck Hoskins is the Director of Missions over at Jefferson County, south of St Louis — he is running for the House.

And I got to tell you about a young pastor named Brian Jump who is the pastor of First Baptist Church Clever here in Missouri. He came to my office and told me that, I guess it was last year, he told three people in his church, in his 127 member congregation, to go run for the local school district seats. And they won — all three won.

Lamb: You mention that he came and talked to you about this. So, that leads to my last question. How can somebody in your position, whether they’re an editor of a paper or director of missions, in other denominations they might be called a bishop — whatever the case — How can somebody who is a pastor to pastors have influence — a positive, joyful influence over those pastors, to get them more engaged in the public square. Obviously, you have that kind of influence, so how do you go about that?

Hinkle: You know, I think that I just appeal to them through Scripture. I think we just have to rely on God to work for guidance on this just as we do everything else. I’m convinced that scripture is quite clear on this matter, that God intends for us to be involved in all of his creation. It all belongs to him, we are his children and we ought to be serving him in all areas, and that includes public policy.

I also consider myself a missionary on a very unique mission field and so I stand ready to share the gospel with anybody at the State Capital. I look forward and have the privilege of praying with them, praying for them. If nothing else, I always encourage people to do what Paul told Timothy to do — to pray for those in authority over us.

Lamb: And on that note, how should we be praying for President Trump?

Hinkle: How to pray for him? Well, I think it’s obvious from all of this that we need to pray that God will give him wisdom so that peace will prevail over the world. There are a lot of issues out there right now. It’s pretty dangerous stuff, and we need a man of great wisdom. We need God to give him the wisdom to understand what the problem is and how to bring about peace in the world. And then, domestically, I think we need to pray that he will seek Godly guidance and counsel.

The one thing that’s impressed me about Trump is how he has surrounded himself with Christians. Starting with Mike Pence, and there are, at least, I think, about a dozen people either in his cabinet or in his administration that are Christians. I recently saw a picture — it had the vice president and him with some others holding hands in a circle and praying in the Oval Office.

So, I would pray that God would send more people to impact him in his life and in his spiritual walk with the Lord and, if he’ll do that, then we’ll see some improvement in domestic policy.

Hinkle: Also, just one final thing, you know, as far as this engagement with pastors — David Lane and the American Renewal Project are just doing a fantastic job. They’re having a tremendous impact on pastor engagement in public policies. I wanted to say that about David.

Lamb: They had one of their events in St. Louis last year, right before the election.

Hinkle: They had a thousand pastors and wives there, it was great.

Lamb: Don, thank you for your time and giving us the update from Show Me state.

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